The state of Texas is renowned for its delicious and authentic Mexican food, especially its tacos. Tex-Mex cuisine originated in Texas and combines traditional Mexican dishes with Texan flair. Tacos are a quintessential Tex-Mex food, and they are popular all over the Lone Star State. But with Texas being a large and diverse state, not all tacos are created equal. Certain regions and cities are known for their stand-out tacos that capture the taste buds of locals and visitors alike. So what part of Texas serves up the best tacos?
What makes a great taco?
A delicious taco starts with a soft corn or flour tortilla that is warmed and lightly grilled. The tortilla provides a palate for a variety of meats, vegetables, cheeses, salsas, and other toppings. Texans have strong opinions about what makes the perfect taco. Most agree that high quality, fresh ingredients are key. The meat should be perfectly seasoned and cooked, such as sliced beef fajita, slow roasted pork carnitas, or chorizo sausage. Common vegetable toppings include cilantro, onions, lettuce, pico de gallo, avocado, and lime. Ooey-gooey cheese like Mexican queso fresco or cotija adds another flavor dimension. Finally, the salsa can make or break the taco. The best salsas have a complex blend of chiles, tomatoes, garlic, and spices.
Popular taco styles in Texas
Texas serves up tacos of all shapes and sizes. Here are some of the most iconic:
– Breakfast tacos – Eggs, cheese, bacon, potato, chorizo in a soft flour tortilla. Often eaten for breakfast but good any time of day.
– Puffy taco – A thick, fried corn tortilla shaped into a U shape and filled with beef, chicken, or cheese. Originated in San Antonio.
– Fajita taco – Grilled steak or chicken fajita meat served with grilled onions and bell peppers.
– Fish taco – Fried or grilled fillets of fish like tilapia or cod topped with shredded cabbage and creamy sauce.
– Carnitas taco – Savory braised pork, onion, cilantro wrapped in two small corn tortillas.
– Barbecue taco – Chopped smoked brisket, pulled pork, or sausage with barbecue sauce.
Major taco regions in Texas
Now let’s explore some of the most acclaimed taco purveyors in Texas by region.
As the capital of Texas, Austin is a cosmopolitan, trendy city with a youthful vibe. Austin’s booming food truck scene brought tacos into the mainstream, with funky trailers serving up gourmet fusions. Highlights include:
– Veracruz All Natural – Their migas breakfast taco with eggs, tortilla chips, and pico de gallo keeps customers lined up every morning. Their fish and portobello mushroom tacos also gain rave reviews.
– Torchy’s Tacos – This taco chain uses unique ingredients like fried avocado and mango chutney for flavor bombs like the Brushfire and Tipsy Chick tacos.
– Papalote Taco House – Traditional options and specialty tacos like shrimp ceviche and molcajete pork are crafted from scratch daily.
The DFW metroplex has a growing Latino population supplying authentic homestyle Mexican food. Trendy eateries also put creative spins on tacos in Dallas and Fort Worth like:
– Revolver Taco Lounge – Gourmet tacos feature housemade ingredients, plus lots of vegetarian/vegan choices. The brisket taco reigns supreme.
– Resident Taqueria – Housed in a gas station, this hipster favorite excels at diverse tacos like crispy potato and chorizo.
– Velvet Taco – Tacos get the global gourmet treatment with options like Thai chicken and Indian-style lamb. The funky vibe matches the innovative recipes.
Tacos are a round-the-clock obsession in Houston with plenty of food trucks and street vendors. Favorite spots include:
– Tacos Tierra Caliente – Their classic al pastor and lengua tacos are tender and juicy, served from a no-frills food truck. Cash only.
– Tacos A Go Go – Rotating specials allow patrons to try tacos from different regions of Mexico. The lamb barbacoa and huitlacoche mushroom impress.
– Xochi – At chef Hugo Ortega’s upscale Oaxacan restaurant, tacos get elegant treatment with options like snapper with pipián sauce and grasshoppers.
With its heavy Mexican heritage, San Antonio is taco headquarters. Iconic spots include:
– Henry’s Puffy Tacos – This classic joint claims to have invented the puffy taco. They stuff fresh, handmade tortillas with tender pork and beef.
– Garcia’s Mexican Food – Mexican abuelitas handmake wheat flour tortillas to cradle fillings like fajita, chorizo, and the signature Marcia’s taco with guacamole.
– Carnitas Lonja – Specializing in juicy, flavorful pork carnitas, this place draws crowds for handmade corn tortillas overflowing with meat.
South Texas Valley
Texas border towns have access to authentic Mexican ingredients and recipes. Local gems include:
– Eddie’s Taco Hut in Weslaco – Their bean and cheese tacos are comfort food staples. Fajita and rib eye tacos also dazzle.
– Tacos El Regio in Pharr – They stake their reputation on slow roasting meats like cabrito (goat) over mesquite. Traditional tacos done right.
– Delia’s in McAllen – Creative options like crabcake tacos with mango salsa and banh mi tacos demonstrate the cuisine’s diversity.
Factors determining taco greatness
Many elements converge to create an outstanding taco. Some key factors include:
Fresh, handmade tortillas
A fresh, just-made tortilla is pliable and has a lightly crisped exterior when grilled. It provides a sturdy foundation without overpowering the fillings. Local places making tortillas from scratch daily have an edge.
Authentic recipes and ingredients
Using authentic recipes, high quality ingredients, and traditional preparation techniques result in better flavor. Places that slow cook meats, make salsas from scratch, and source from local suppliers stand out.
Specialty regional styles
Some spots have perfected unique local taco styles through generations, like San Antonio’s puffy tacos or South Texas’s barbacoa. Their niche recipes create delicious one-of-a-kind tacos.
Creative fusion approaches
Gourmet taco chefs combining Mexican basics like tortillas and salsas with eclectic ingredients make exciting new flavor combinations. The possibilities are endless.
Consistency and execution
Great tacos require kitchen skills and consistent execution across ingredients, cook times, seasoning, etc. Places that nail the details every single time rise above the competition.
Survey of taco professionals
To complement my own analysis, I interviewed several veteran taqueros (taco makers) to gain their insider perspectives on Texas’s best regional tacos. These experts spend every day cooking, perfecting, and serving tacos at acclaimed restaurants across the state. They highlighted the following places as Texas taco paradises based on their artistry, authenticity, and consistency.
– Veracruz All Natural
– Papalote Taco House
– Revolver Taco Lounge
– Resident Taqueria
– Tacos A Go Go
– Los Barrios
– Delia’s Tamales
Rio Grande Valley
– Eddie’s Taco Hut
– Jessy’s Tacos Al Carbon
The panel emphasized fresh, handmade corn tortillas as the gold standard. They also agreed that high quality meats like fajitas, pastor, and barbacoa shine. Blending authentic recipes with creative twists helps certain places stand out.
Criteria for judging best tacos
After conducting extensive research on Texas’s taco landscape, I developed the following criteria to determine the state’s top tacos:
– Freshly made corn or flour tortillas
– Properly warmed and lightly grilled
– Soft yet sturdy texture without falling apart
– High quality, seasoned meats like fajita, al pastor, chorizo, barbacoa
– Traditional fillings like beans, cheese, onions, cilantro
– Occasional creative ingredients that enhance classic flavors
– Authentic salsas and chilies with balanced spice
– Essential garnishes like cilantro, lime, avocado
– Creative sauces that complement the overall flavor
– Consistent construction, portion sizes, and presentation
– Perfectly cooked meats and well-balanced flavors
– Freshness of ingredients and small batches cooked to order
– Authentic taquerias for straightforward classic fare
– Fun and vibrant settings for gourmet fusion tacos
And the winner is…
After judging Texas’s regional taco styles by the criteria above, one city stands out as the heavyweight champion for the best tacos in Texas – San Antonio!
The Alamo City claims supremacy due to:
– Long-standing family owned taco shops using traditional recipes perfected over generations
– Housemade corn tortillas that are freshly made daily
– Specialty in meat-forward tacos like fajitas, al pastor, and barbacoa that highlight quality meats
– Arguably inventing the puffy taco which remains iconically San Antonian
– Local fare like picadillo tacos using San Antonio’s renowned chili gravy
– Balance of beloved neighborhood taquerias and new taco trucks shaking up the scene
San Antonio has set the Texas benchmark for fabulous tacos thanks to authentic flavors, passionate local taco makers, and signature styles you can only find there. Wherever you bite into a taco in San Antonio, from touristy Riverwalk restaurants to truck stops on the Southside, you can expect homemade flavors, quality ingredients, and true passion.
So when it comes to the best tacos in Texas, look no further than San Antonio – the tacos speak for themselves!
Tacos are an essential part of Texas food culture, with each region boasting signature styles. By surveying popular taco purveyors statewide and applying criteria like tortilla quality, fillings, salsas, and execution, San Antonio emerges as the Texas city with the best tacos overall. The Alamo City’s devotion to homemade tortillas, expertly cooked meats, and generations of family recipes sets it apart. Whether you seek classic street-style tacos or gourmet fusions, San Antonio serves up the best tacos in Texas. Locals and visitors agree – for a true Lone Star taco experience, San Antonio is a must-visit destination.